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U.S. blacklists Israeli NSO and Candiru for malicious spyware sales

Companies added to 'entity list' for supplying foreign governments with tools to target journalists, opponents and dissidents; move limits their access to U.S. tech by requiring government permission for exports; Israel says studying implications of decision

Agencies, Ynet |
Updated: 11.03.21, 18:36
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday added cyber companies, NSO and Candiru, to the Entity List for Malicious Cyber Activities, effectively putting new export limits on the Israeli-based firms.
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  • The move limits their access to U.S. components and technology by requiring government permission for exports. The department said putting these companies on the entity list was part of the Biden administration’s efforts to promote human rights in U.S. foreign policy.
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    Russian-based Positive Technologies and Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE LTD, were also added to the list.
    In a statement, the Chamber said the companies were added "based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers."
    The U.S. advised Israel of the move shortly before it was announced.
    “We are not taking action against countries or governments where these entities are located," said a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.
    An official government source said Israel was studying decision and its commercial implications. The source noted that the fact that the Israeli companies were sanctioned by the Chamber of Commerce implied it was not as grave as an announcement by the State Department would have been.
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    A man reads at a stand of the NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli technology firm known for its Pegasus spyware enabling the remote surveillance of smartphones, at the annual European Police Congress in Berlin
    A man reads at a stand of the NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli technology firm known for its Pegasus spyware enabling the remote surveillance of smartphones, at the annual European Police Congress in Berlin
    The NSO booth at the annual European Police Congress in Berlin
    (Photo: Reuters)
    In its decision to blacklist the two Israeli companies the Chamber of Commerce said that the NSO and Candiru developed tools that have "enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments." Adding that "such practices threaten the rules-based international order.
    In September, Citizens Lab, an internet security watchdog group published an investigation that found NSO had developed a tool to break into Apple (AAPL.O) iPhones with a never-before-seen technique that has been in use since at least February, defeating the security systems designed by Apple in recent years.
    The malware was found on the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron, believed to have been spied on by the Moroccan government and according to Citizen Lab was also found to have infected the phone of of an unnamed Saudi activist.
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    נפתלי בנט בפגישה עם עמנואל מקרון בוועידת האקלים
    נפתלי בנט בפגישה עם עמנואל מקרון בוועידת האקלים
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and French President Emmanuel Macron meeting on the sidelines of the UN COP26 summit on Monday
    (Photo: GPO)
    In a meeting on Sunday Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Macron agreed to handle the matter "discreetly" when they met on the sidelines of the Glasgow climate summit and decided to resolve the crisis.
    ”The FBI has been investigating NSO, and Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess allegations that its spyware has been abused on a global scale.
    NSO Group said it was dismayed by the U.S. administration's Wednesday decision. "Our technologies support U.S. national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, and thus we will advocate for this decision to be reversed,” the company said in a statement.

    First published: 16:56, 11.03.21
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